“New Adult” Fiction

When I was going through high school (and well beyond) I always wondered why there was no fiction out there about people beyond adolescence but not really at adulthood yet.  I wanted to read stories about college aged characters and with a few rare exceptions, it seemed this didn’t exist.  I think part of what I wanted was–apart from wanting stories about the age that I was at the time–stories that were more mature than the YA available at the time but not necessarily dealing with adults in their mid-20s to late-30s which were a little harder to relate to.  Given that I am now 30, that’s less an issue now, but I still feel that this is kind of a hole in the oeuvre so to speak.

So yesterday I came across a post on Twitter talking about Postadolescent or “New Adult” fiction.  Hooray!  There’s a TERM for the thing that I want!  And while the author notes a lack of books in this category, it DOES apparently exist.  Woo!

She mentions that you have these books that are about teenagers but are marketed as adult and then you have books that have characters over 18 that are marketed as YA and postulates on the difference.

One characteristic of adult literature is perspective. With the passing of childhood innocence comes experience, and with experience comes insight. With his/her adolescent years behind him/her, an adult can look back and see “what was then and what is now”.

This often comes down to voice. There is a YA voice and an adult one, and even if stories overlap, the adult voice has a sense of scope. What makes YA compelling as a read is its immediacy; a young person cannot write of him/herself from any perspective aside from “now” and “later”. With a YA voice, the past is less present, the present looms like a storm, and the future ever just out of reach. With an adult voice, there is a sense that the future has come to pass, the past is present, and the present encompasses all that has been and all that will be.

I thought this was interesting, even if I’m not sure I entirely understand or agree with the difference.  I haven’t read either of the examples she references, so I’m not sure I totally get how she’s differentiating. I don’t know that I have actually read anything in the YA genre that was marketed for adults, though many of the books I’ve read have wide appeal to adult readers.

The difference, for me, is the maturity of the characters.  I can’t tolerate immature characters.  I can’t tolerate immature PEOPLE in real life (and couldn’t even when I was allegedly one of them), so that’s probably why.  A lot of the YA I didn’t care for had really immature heroines.  Bella from the Twilight series.  Ever from Evermore.  There was lots of emo thoughtologue that bored the crap out of me and absolutely no perspective or insight.  It’s the kind of thing that kept making me wonder what in the heck the immortal heroes saw in them because I wanted to b*tch slap them for being stupid.

While they, from time to time, act immature, I don’t see the characters in The Mortal Instruments as being immature.  Same with anything by Maggie Stiefvater or the Strange Angels series by Lili St. Crow.  These characters feel generally more mature to me.  In some cases it’s that they have bigger, more adult problems to deal with.  In some it’s that they make better, more adult decisions.  I don’t know.  In general I just find them not annoying (and love them).  So maybe that’s often what it comes down to for me immature/annoying vs. mature/not-annoying.   Gee, how scientific.

Anyway, it’s something that’s of interest to me because a lot of the YA I plan to write is sort of in that bridge territory of postadolescence.

Q4U: What are your thoughts on the difference between the two?

5 thoughts on ““New Adult” Fiction

  1. I hadn’t thought to look for a name for this genre! But you’re right, I like it too! I agree that some YA can have whiny emo characters; thank goodness I haven’t read too many of those.
    And oddly enough, I find myself exploring the same territory in my current wip, since Rose is 17 going on 18 back in a time when she ought to have been married by then!
    But I’m wracking my brains trying to think of books with younger adults, and can only remember a handful. Anne of Green Gables, once she’s in college. The Beginner’s Book of Dreams by… don’t remember, unfortunately. I liked the book a lot but it was one of those one off things from the late 80s/early 90s that I got at a book fair. Besides that… Oh, there was Beverly Butler’s Light A Penny Candle, about a young blind girl. And of course Friends and Lovers by Helen MacInnes, but that was romance, if you have to give it a genre.
    Hmm, your examples were more modern than mine 🙂

  2. I’d say the main difference is whether the protagonist and their peers are subject to adult authority, or whether they are recognized by their society as autonomous. This is a restatement of the dividing line between minor and adult. Note that most of the characters in Young “Adult” fiction are not adult by the legal standards or customs of their society.


    1. I like what Steve says here, keeps it simple. What I’d like to see is a comparison layout between young adult, new adult/postadolescent, and adult protagonist genres or sub-genres.

      I find my writing across projects tends toward this new adult/postadolescent category, but it would be good to get some agreed upon clarity regarding what it is and what it isn’t.

      1. I think it’s such an amorphous kind of thing….and I’m betting editors at different houses would look at the same projects differently.

  3. An interesting and highly relevant post. I like YA literature – The Mortal Instruments series that you mention is one of my favourites – but I’m always cautious to check that books I’m interested in buying aren’t too young. I find there is a distinct line for reader maturity at around 15 yrs. I think there should be a Teens category for the younger teens and that the YA category should be more for the 16 – 24 age group. It would make it easier for readers to find the right level of maturity, not just in the characters but in the plots as well.

    You might like to take a preview peek at ch 1 of my new YA fantasy novel, ‘Lethal Inheritance’. You’ll find it at http://publishersearch.wordpress.com/lethal-inheritance/

    Even though it’s only the first chapter, I’d be interested to see what you think of the heroine. The blog part is about my journey to publication, including posts on aspects of writing, publishing and being a writer. You might be able to add some helpful comments or find inspiration from it for a posting for you.

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